|Bruce Williamson possesses a seemingly limitless passion for playing, any time, any place, any kind of music: "inside" jazz, "outside" jazz, blues, soul, funk, Brazilian, classical. "I get a lot of joy out of switching uniforms," he says.
Born September 14, 1951 in Portland, Oregon and raised in Oakland, California, Williamson began studying piano at age 6, clarinet at 8, and saxophone at 12. His first gigs as a young teenager were with his brother's R&B band, playing organ and sax. Prompted by an increased interest in jazz, Bruce attended the University of Miami for two years. After returning to the Bay Area, he joined jazz pianist/composer Art Lande's wonderfully imaginative Rubisa Patrol (with Mark Isham on trumpet) in 1976, recording one album with the group for the 1750 Arch St. label. Maintaining a close relationship with Lande through the years, Bruce has performed with Gary Peacock, Paul McCandless, Tom Harrell, Julian Priester and others.
After relocating to New York a decade ago, Williamson spent a year on the road with Ham-mond B-3 master Jack McDuff (also getting a chance to play with George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, and Jimmy Smith). Since then he has led his own quartets and quintets and has travelled to Europe and Japan as a featured soloist. In 1991 he was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for Jazz
Composition. Recent recordings, which range from the Manhattan New Music Project (featuring trum-petter Jack Walrath) to soul singers Darlene Love and Cissy Houston, partially attest to the scope of his musical interests.
The recording at hand, Williamson's first as a leader, focuses on his considerable abilities as an instrumentalist, especially on the alto saxophone, and his gifts as a composer and arranger. His thoughtfully developed improvisations achieve an ideal balance between logic and emotion and reveal a complete command of the alto's range with a rich personal sound. His writing is also remarkable, with the richly voiced horn lines well integrated into the rhythm section grooves to create unity of form and frequent suprises. All selections are Williamson originals, with the exception of "You Say You Care," a sentimental Jule Styne ballad that Bruce has completely revamped to include several bars of 5/4 and, at one point, a Monk-like riff.
Williamson's experience as a pianist (he is frequently called to play gigs on piano) has greatly informed both his writing and horn playing. "Playing piano in a rhythm section has taught me invaluable lessons about phrasing, harmony and the shaping of musical energy. It's a much different perspective than what I get as a horn player." Bruce does most of his writing at the piano, then, he says, "I'll check it on
the horn to see if it sings."
For this set of songs, Williamson has assembled two septets comprising some of the leading New York-based musicians of his generation. There is one departure from this format; serving as an introduction to "Sima" (a samba named after Wil-liamson's wife), the brief, haunting "A Growing Concern" is performed by the leader on synthesizer, bass clarinet, and soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, overdubbed to create a mock string quartet-with-woodwinds texture.
Although Williamson solos on alto during most numbers (except for soprano sax on "Sima" and flute on the lovely Brazilian-tinged "Moon-watch"), this is a democratic affair in which the other participants are given plenty of room to shine. Solo assignments, he says, were dedicated by "what the song seemed to need, rather than what I needed to show what I could do." Within the space of these 10 varied, yet nicely unified selections, however, Williamson shows himself to be not only a commanding instrumentalist, but also a composer and arranger of formidable creativity.
Lee Hildebrand East Bay Express
Recorded at Baby Monster Studio and MRC Studio, N. Y. on 24 January 1992 and 7 December 1990.